We explain the meaning of flowers around the world to help you avoid a major faux pas when gifting them in your home country.
Flowers remain a popular gift in many countries and are given to celebrate – or commiserate – a variety of occasions. Depending on where you are in the world, however, these pretty blooms can carry an entirely different meaning. What might seem lovely and thoughtful to you may be considered offensive or bad luck to someone else. So to help you avoid faux pas in your home country, we take a look at the meaning of flowers across the globe and share some fun facts along the way.
Believe it or not, flowers aren’t always seen as a symbol of joy and prosperity. In Egypt, for example, they represent death; therefore gifting a congratulatory bouquet to your friend or relative would be a major faux pas. It is perhaps better to play it safe and stick to jewelry or spices instead.
Egypt isn’t the only country to associate flowers with loss. In the UK, white lilies are often displayed at funerals, while in Japan, lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias are usually presented. Red roses, which represent romantic love in many cultures, are given at funerals in Latvia and Hungary, too.
It’s not all sunshine and roses
Speaking of roses, these vibrant petals have a whole rule book of their own. If you give someone a single rose in Vietnam, for example, that is enough to declare your undying love for them. The Brazilians, on the other hand, expect to receive 12 roses in this case. And while a bunch of red roses is seen as an expression of passionate love in Italy, it can also convey a strong desire for victory – so beware!
Roses are not always gifted in a romantic context either. If you happen to be turning 20 in Korea, for instance, you might be lucky enough to receive 20 red ones as a special birthday treat. And if you walk through the streets of Catalonia on 23 April (the Feast of Saint George), you will likely see locals gifting each other red roses to commemorate their patron saint, Sant Jordi. As the legend goes, a rose grew from the blood of a dragon he famously sleighed.
In some cultures, certain types of flowers are believed to bring about good luck. Although technically not a flower, the four-leafed clover, for instance, is considered extremely lucky in the Western world. As the legend goes, when Eve had to leave paradise, she took one along for good luck. Therefore, if you happen to find one (and they are fairly rare) it is believed to bring you favorable outcomes. While the more common three-leafed clover (or shamrock) is seen as a symbol of national heritage in Ireland, the Irish also associate the four-leafed version with good luck.
Many Asian cultures believe that certain flowers attract good fortune, too. A lotus blossom, for example, is considered sacred in Buddhism and is thought to bestow peace and harmony in the home. Furthermore, one that is rooted in a muddy pond is considered a metaphor for the human journey towards enlightenment. Therefore, placing this flower in a koi pond or the entrance to your home is believed to attract positive chi (or life force).
Orchids also represent wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture. These are often gifted during Chinese New Year; a symbolic time of rebirth and new beginnings. Similarly, Pussy Willows, Narcissus, and Peach Blossoms carry fruitful connotations. Whatever you do, though, never give a person a potted plant as a gift in Asia, as this is thought to represent the restriction of a relationship.
The power of color
The type of flower isn’t the only thing you need to consider when browsing the local florist for the perfect gift; color plays an important role, too. It’s also important to know that in certain cultures, the same color can carry a very different meaning for flowers.
In the Arab world, for example, white and light-colored flowers are often given during happy occasions, such as a birth, engagement, and marriage. They are also given to young women. In Germany, on the other hand, white flowers are usually presented at funerals and represent sorrow. Meanwhile, in Brazil, black and purple are associated with mourning, so these are the obvious shades to avoid.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are lucky colors too. In Asian cultures, for instance, red is believed to bring good fortune, therefore presenting flowers of this shade is strongly appreciated. In Italy, yellow and orange flowers signify joy, while blue represents freedom, and pink conveys sweet emotions and intimacy.
Japan also has its preferences when it comes to color. This culture has a whole language based around flowers, called Hanakotoba, in which red camellias and blue forget-me-nots represent true love; so be careful who you give them to.
An odd tradition
Thirteen might be considered an unlucky number in many countries, but when it comes to flowers, odd numbers are often seen to bring happiness and luck. This is the standard rule in Russia, Ukraine, and former members of the Soviet Union, where an odd number of blooms signifies joy, and even numbers are reserved for grieving and funerals.
While the odd number tradition applies in many European countries, people tend to make an exception on Valentine’s Day when they send a dozen (or half a dozen) red roses to declare their love. If you opt for a dozen, however, just make sure an extra one doesn’t accidentally slip into the bunch; 13 is generally regarded as a number to steer clear of.
Fun floral facts
Every day, thousands of flowers are sent all over the world to mark a variety of occasions. But which country is the most generous at giving them, and what are the most popular blooms? Read these interesting facts to find out.
Top countries sending flower deliveries
The best-selling flowers worldwide
- Mixed bouquets
Top five most expensive flowers
- Kadupul Flower: unbuyable and priceless as it can’t be picked without being damaged. It only blossoms around midnight and dies before dawn.
- Juliet Rose: this beautiful flower is worth £3 million and took 15 long years to create.
- Shenzhen Nongke Orchid: it costs £160,000, needs four to five years to blossom, and took researchers eight years to grow.
- Gold of Kinabalu Orchid (pictured above): this is sold at £3,000, takes eight to 10 years to reach maturity and bloom, and is grown in a sterilized laboratory.
- Saffron Crocus: it costs between £800 to £1,000 and is the flower from where the venerated spice is extracted from.
Did you know?
The most expensive wedding bouquet ever sold was around £82,000; it was studded with 90 gemstones, nine diamonds, and one star-shaped ruby. It’s not every day a flower bouquet is more expensive than the wedding rings!
Source: data courtesy of FloraQueen.com